Dalglish despair as fringe players fail Cup audition


Kenny Dalglish had billed this game as an opportunity for his fringe players to stake a claim for a place in the FA Cup final. On the evidence of last night most of this lot will be wearing suits come kick-off time at Wembley.

Even by the standards of a season in which Liverpool have won five times at Anfield, two fewer than when they were relegated in 1954, this was a nadir. Fulham had never won here in their history and the blank facts are that they should have done so by a rather greater margin than a single goal.

Had Kerim Frei's shot not struck the outside of the post or Alexander Doni not saved superbly when Frei slipped Clint Dempsey through, Fulham, who a few days before had been disembowelled in the traditional manner at Everton, would have had an even more comfortable evening.

These games are, admittedly, no guide to FA Cup finals. In 1988 Liverpool had warmed up for a final they would lose to Wimbledon by crushing Sheffield Wednesday 5-1 at Hillsborough. However, as a guide to Liverpool's strength in depth it was indisputable.

These were two clubs that had diametrically opposite opinions of the new England manager. Those Fulham fans who, given their team's abysmal record on Merseyside, must have truly loved their club to have made yet another journey to Liverpool, chanted Roy Hodgson's name. Anfield made no reply.

The mood at England's most atmospheric stadium was sullen. For the opening 20 minutes, Liverpool were jaw-droppingly incompetent. With Dalglish having made nine changes from the side that at Norwich last Saturday produced one of the club's most complete performances of the season, this was a team of understudies. Their impact was so limited that it was hard to imagine Dalglish not turning back to his leading men at Wembley. Jordan Henderson, one of those who started at Carrow Road, was hauled off at half-time.

Dempsey was at the heart of everything good about Fulham and he began by running at the defence, before switching the ball to the left flank, where John Arne Riise delivered a low, blisteringly hard cross. It was probably meant for Alex Kacaniklic but struck Martin Skrtel on the chest and gave Doni no chance. There was so little noise it appeared at first as if the goal had been disallowed.

Liverpool's best chance came after Andy Carroll had done what he had been brought here to do – get in the goalkeeper's face and provoke a mistake. Mark Schwarzer dropped the ball; Maxi Rodriguez played it to Jonjo Shelvey, whose shot slithered under Schwarzer's body and was cleared off the line by Brede Hangeland.